Blair: my part in his make-over

I was asked to do his 1997 election broadcast precisely because my films are natural. The project wa

Two worlds collided this week when I returned to Cornwall, where I made my latest film, The Lie of the Land. I went to the "flesh house" of Ian Williams, where he strips down carcasses for the local pack of hunt hounds, with a very cool photographer, Glenn, who was taking press shots for Channel 4. It was a meeting which would never have happened in normal circumstances; Ian has never left Cornwall, and Glenn travels to three countries a week, but rarely to the British countryside. Surprisingly, perhaps, they got on straightaway.

When we arrived, Ian was taking the stomach out of a cow. Glenn took one look and threw up; he was experiencing exactly the shock that I went through when I first came across this world. We then saw Ian remove the skin from a carcass by attaching it to the hub of a truck and reversing at about 30 miles per hour, ripping it away from the body. It is revolting, yet ingenious, and leaves a skin from which Ian will earn £4. In contrast, the photographer's assistant gets £100 per day.

The meeting also changed the dynamic between Ian and myself. Going back without the camera, I finally felt we had become friends. I sat and had a very moving conversation with him and his brother Mark; they have just lost their mother. I was relieved not to have to make the moral decision about whether to film the conversation.

Was I naive?

The talk of Blair's imminent departure makes me recall the three months I spent filming an election broadcast, Tony Blair: the movie, with him in 1997. I was asked to do it precisely because my films are very natural. Needless to say, the project was then hamstrung by people trying to create an image which would please all the focus groups. I was under pressure to shoot endless footage of Blair caked in orange make-up, delivering pieces to camera.

After much pushing, I finally got a very good interview with him as he made tea for his children in the kitchen at home, where he talked about the death of his mother and why he didn't become a Tory. People respond to honesty; it is so disrespectful to the electorate to serve up these artificial presentations of politicians, and nobody believes it anyway.

Although the film was a great learning experience, I now feel naive for failing to realise that it would tar me with the new Labour brush. I have never been in any particular political camp.

Cow horns in the Cotswolds

The children and I have been staying with my mum in Witney, in the Cotswolds. This is not rural England; it is John Prescott countryside, bulging with new builds in beautiful stone. Sitting in the back garden, I heard lots of mooing and ventured out to find two farmers de-horning their calves. My kids, who are ten, seven and five, were busy using the trampoline and not at all interested, but I made them come and watch - I wanted them to see something real. The calves were put in what is called "the crush", with their tiny necks thrashing about. The children looked on completely horrified as the hot clamps came down, leaving the horn stumps smoking and the calf screeching. I wish my children were a bit more aware of rural practices. We live in well-off west London, for which in part I am grateful, but I feel increasingly gloomy at what a virtual life we lead.

Supermarket avoidance

When I make a documentary I am never objective - I argue a cause passionately. But afterwards, it can be very difficult to live by it. After making a film on farming, I have become obsessed with avoiding supermarkets.

For most people, this is nearly impossible - where do you shop if you live somewhere like Padstow, where all the food shops in town have been replaced by useless trinket emporia? Even in Shepherd's Bush, local shopping means braving parking tickets, trunk roads and extortionate prices. The irony is, I have been so busy making and editing this film that I am too busy to shop anywhere but the supermarkets. But that is the point - our lifestyles do not allow any time for shopping, cooking and eating.

This article first appeared in the 07 May 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Blair: The reckoning